University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
CUT FLOWER CARE
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Whether you give and receive cut flowers for Valentine’s
Day, on special occasions, or just to brighten up someone’s day, there are some
tips you should follow to ensure the longest life in the vase (often called
When buying flowers, check the water they are in. It should smell
fresh and clean. Otherwise there may be bacteria growing in it
that will clog the flower stems. Another
indication is clean flower stems that are not slimy.
Check flower stems to make sure they are not scarred from
rough handling, or broken. Flowers
should look fresh without signs of a fuzzy growth called gray mold or
“botrytis.” Flowers should have upright,
not drooping or damaged petals. Leaves
on flower stems should not be yellow, spotted, or drooping-- all signs of old
Choose the opening stage of flowers depending on your use
for them. If they are to be enjoyed
immediately, with vase life not as important, pick ones fairly open. If flowers are to be enjoyed over the longest
time possible, choose ones just beginning to open. For single blooms such as roses and
carnations, for instance, flower buds should only have one petal unfurled. For spike flowers such as gladiolus, buy with
only the first two or three flowers open.
daisy-type flowers, such as many chrysanthemums, make sure the centers are
almost green for longest life. The
centers are actually many individual “disc” flowers, which when
fully open turn yellow,
and when gone past turn brown.
Although cut flowers last best in the cool, avoid
exposing them to severe cold on the way home, or leaving for a long time in
freezing temperatures. Ideal temperatures
to transport and store are between 40 and 50 degrees (F).
Make sure vases and clippers, or knives, are clean. This means washing them well in detergent or
an antibacterial cleaning product.
Knives or clippers used to cut stems should be sharp, to
make a clean cut. Otherwise, vessels in
flower stems can get damaged and not be able to take up water as well. Remove any leaves that will be below the
water level so they don’t rot, spoiling the water. Cut about one to two inches off the stems and
place immediately into the vase.
Vases should contain a commercial flower food. A small packet usually comes with bouquets
you buy, or you can buy such packets at a floral shop. If you buy many cut flowers, you might buy a
small container of such food. This
“food” contains sugars the flower needs, plus a weak acidic material to prevent
bacteria from growing and clogging stems.
If you don’t have, or can’t get, such floral food there
are many home remedies that are often less effective. Often used, though, is a lemon lime soda
diluted by half with water. Or you could
just use clean water with a couple drops of bleach.
You should top up the vase with fresh solution as the
level recedes. After six days replace
the solution in a clean vase, recutting stems once again. When making the solution for a vase, use
lukewarm water as it is absorbed faster than cold water. Keeping flowers out of
direct sunlight, and away from drafts (near doors, windows, heat vents), will
help prolong their life.
your flowers wilt, try recutting and replacing with fresh
solution. If this doesn’t work, it may not be your
fault, but rather with the handling prior to your purchase. It
helps to buy from a floral shop that has
trained personnel, or one that has a quick turnover of flowers (meaning
they are usually fresh). Buy good
flowers, and treat them well, and they should look good for at least a
two. Then when they are nearing the end of their life in a vase, cut
to within a half-inch of the flower, and float them in a bowl of
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